Yes, that Mexican-flavored shredded cheese mix, found right next to the Kraft singles, makes awesome quesadillas. But little strands of cheese curds are not meant to remain so sedately separate from each other, even as they are tossed into plastic bags and shipped across the country. So how do big food companies keep shredded cheese from clumping into a gooey mess? They add wood.
Technically, the ingredient is powdered cellulose. Cellulose is the stuff that makes up the walls of plant cells, and it apparently has additional properties, like keeping cheese from clumping, thickening jam, and making low-fat ice cream taste like actual ice cream. It’s natural enough that the USDA has blessed the use of some forms in organic products.
But extracting the cellulose to begin with requires “cooking raw plant fiber…in various chemicals,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Not exactly comforting, even if, as one professor of food science told the paper, the cellulose in all sorts of processed food is a source of fiber for people who don’t eat their veggies. Why get your daily dose of fiber from broccoli when a Hershey’s chocolate milk shake will do?